Upscale Energy Transfer by the Vortical Mode and Internal Waves

Anne-Marie E. G. Brunner-Suzuki University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, Massachusetts

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Miles A. Sundermeyer University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, Massachusetts

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M.-Pascale Lelong NorthWest Research Associates, Redmond, Washington

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Abstract

Diapycnal mixing in the ocean is sporadic yet ubiquitous, leading to patches of mixing on a variety of scales. The adjustment of such mixed patches can lead to the formation of vortices and other small-scale geostrophic motions, which are thought to enhance lateral diffusivity. If vortices are densely populated, they can interact and merge, and upscale energy transfer can occur. Vortex interaction can also be modified by internal waves, thus impacting upscale transfer. Numerical experiments were used to study the effect of a large-scale near-inertial internal wave on a field of submesoscale vortices. While one might expect a vertical shear to limit the vertical scale of merging vortices, it was found that internal wave shear did not disrupt upscale energy transfer. Rather, under certain conditions, it enhanced upscale transfer by enhancing vortex–vortex interaction. If vortices were so densely populated that they interacted even in the absence of a wave, adding a forced large-scale wave enhanced the existing upscale transfer. Results further suggest that continuous forcing by the main driving mechanism (either vortices or internal waves) is necessary to maintain such upscale transfer. These findings could help to improve understanding of the direction of energy transfer in submesoscale oceanic processes.

Corresponding author address: Miles A. Sundermeyer, School for Marine Science and Technology, UMass Dartmouth, 706 S Rodney French Blvd., New Bedford, MA 02744. E-mail: msundermeyer@umassd.edu

This article is included in the LatMix: Studies of Submesoscale Stirring and Mixing Special Collection.

Abstract

Diapycnal mixing in the ocean is sporadic yet ubiquitous, leading to patches of mixing on a variety of scales. The adjustment of such mixed patches can lead to the formation of vortices and other small-scale geostrophic motions, which are thought to enhance lateral diffusivity. If vortices are densely populated, they can interact and merge, and upscale energy transfer can occur. Vortex interaction can also be modified by internal waves, thus impacting upscale transfer. Numerical experiments were used to study the effect of a large-scale near-inertial internal wave on a field of submesoscale vortices. While one might expect a vertical shear to limit the vertical scale of merging vortices, it was found that internal wave shear did not disrupt upscale energy transfer. Rather, under certain conditions, it enhanced upscale transfer by enhancing vortex–vortex interaction. If vortices were so densely populated that they interacted even in the absence of a wave, adding a forced large-scale wave enhanced the existing upscale transfer. Results further suggest that continuous forcing by the main driving mechanism (either vortices or internal waves) is necessary to maintain such upscale transfer. These findings could help to improve understanding of the direction of energy transfer in submesoscale oceanic processes.

Corresponding author address: Miles A. Sundermeyer, School for Marine Science and Technology, UMass Dartmouth, 706 S Rodney French Blvd., New Bedford, MA 02744. E-mail: msundermeyer@umassd.edu

This article is included in the LatMix: Studies of Submesoscale Stirring and Mixing Special Collection.

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